Even though I live by the water, I find the desert intriguing. The stunning vistas and the history and current lifestyle of the indigenous Native Americas draw me back for inspiration for my writing. The landscape in Northern Arizona is scenic and reminds me of an uncluttered room. The wide open spaces are like the water view I have but dotted with rock mesas and buttes in a variety of colors that were left behind by the glaciers and the elements over the years.
After my trip to Sedona, (see my blog https://singleboomerlife.com/sedona-arizona-something-for-everyone/), I knew I wanted to return to the area to do research for a book, to see more of Flagstaff and check The Grand Canyon off my bucket list. An added bonus was a visit to Phoenix with my son and daughter-in-law for Spring Training and its delectable cuisine. The first installment of this blog focuses on Flagstaff. There is so much history in the city it deserves its own section.
After picking up a rental car in Phoenix, I drove the scenic road to Flagstaff amazed by the towering Saguaro Cactus and the snow-capped mountains. In a day I’d gone from sea level and beach weather to 7000 feet and melting snow. Since I’m a Minnesota native, I knew how to pack and enjoyed the cooler weather after our almost non-existent winter in Florida. Later in my trip, I visited the red rocks of Sedona, new friends I’d met through an ancestry search and Montezuma’s Castle in the Verde Valley, an ancient home of the Southern Sinagua. Montezuma’s Castle National Monument is a five-story, 20-room dwelling that was inhabited between 1200 and 1300 A.D. It was recreated to its former state after years of looting. The exterior and nearby sites, Montezuma’s Well and Tuzigoot, the remnants of another Southern Sinagua village, are open to the public. If you like to gamble, there’s casino and lodging near the freeway exit.
Although Flagstaff doesn’t have the wow factor of the Grand Canyon, it’s got a lot going for it. The fact it still has a stretch of the infamous Route 66 running through it, may bring back some fond memories of road trips as a child. U.S. Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway, the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System. Established in 1926, it originally ran from Chicago, IL through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending at Santa Monica, CA, covering a total of 2,448 miles. It was recognized in popular culture during our childhood by both the hit song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” and the Route 66 television show in the 1960s. You can get more information on this and all of the attractions in the area at the Flagstaff Visitor Center in the center of town right on Route 66.
While you’re downtown, stroll around and see the murals depicting the history of the area, sculptures and stop for a beer and local cuisine in one of the microbreweries and eateries frequented by residents and students of Northern Arizona University.
The Atlantic and Pacific Railroads were responsible for giving Flagstaff its start when the workers set up a tent village in 1881 during its construction. During that time, shootings and lynching were common occurrences, so business owners kept guns handy to deal with troublemakers.
The Babbitt and Riordan families left their mark during Flagstaff’s early history and still do today. The Babbitt’s made their name in ranching, trading posts, and politics, activities that continue to this day. They also run The Babbitt Brothers Foundation, a non-profit organization which provides opportunities to participate in the health, education, science, arts and historic preservation of the Northern Arizona communities where Babbitt Ranches do business.
The three Riordan brothers came to Flagstaff seeking professional opportunities. They started out in the lumber business in the 1880s providing materials for the building of the railroad. Their civic-minded enterprises helped establish a company hospital that served the lumber mill and the town, brought electricity to Flagstaff, the construction of three Catholic churches, and aided in the establishment of some of the most important scientific and educational institutions in the community, including Northern Arizona University, Lowell Observatory, and Fort Valley Experimental Forest Station. They also developed a community hotel, the Monte Vista, which is still open today and has hosted Hollywood stars and has resident ghosts. See http://www.hotelmontevista.com/site/page/view/famousGuests and http://www.hotelmontevista.com/site/page/view/ghostStories. As fate would have it, the families intermarried and a dynasty was founded.
In the U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 017-01, “The San Francisco Volcanic Field, Arizona,” Susan S. Priest, Wendell A. Duffield, Karen Malis-Clark, James W. Hendley II, and Peter H. Stauffer at https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2001/fs017-01/ offer the following information. “Northern Arizona’s San Francisco Volcanic Field, much of which lies within Coconino and Kaibab National Forests, is an area of young volcanoes along the southern margin of the Colorado Plateau. During its 6-million-year history, this field has produced more than 600 volcanoes. Their activity has created a topographically varied landscape with forests that extend from the Piñon-Juniper up to the Bristlecone Pine life zones. The most prominent landmark is San Francisco Mountain, a stratovolcano that rises to 12,633 feet and serves as a scenic backdrop to the city of Flagstaff.” The area offers diverse recreational opportunities, including camping, hiking, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, and winter sports.
The peaks of San Francisco Mountain, which includes Arizona’s highest point, Humphreys Peak, tower over the ruins of an ancient Native American pueblo in Wupatki National Monument. Its inhabitants must have witnessed the eruption of nearby Sunset Crater, the state’s youngest volcano, in about A.D. 1064 A.D.
Most of the 600+ volcanoes in the San Francisco Volcanic Field are basalt cinder cones. They’re usually less than 1,000 feet tall, formed within months to years and were built when gas-charged frothy blobs of basalt magma erupted as a lava fountain that fell back to the earth as volcanic rock with cavities created by the trapped gas bubbles. The smaller fragments of rock are called cinders and the larger, bombs, which as they accumulate built a cone-shaped hill. The cinders are used in Flagstaff during snow storms to coat the road and prevent accidents until the spring winds blow them back into nature.
Starting in 1963 the rocky landscape and Cinder Lake provided NASA with a stage to prepare for the Apollo Missions. The Astrogeology Research Program transformed the northern Arizona landscape into a re-creation of the Moon by blasting hundreds of different-sized craters in the earth creating an ideal training ground for astronauts. For more information see http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/About/AstroHistory/astronauts.html.
While we’re on the subject of space, Flagstaff’s Lowell Observatory, established in 1894, is among the oldest astronomical observatories in the U.S. It was there that the now dwarf planet Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. The Observatory’s original 24-inch Alvan Clark & Sons Telescope is still in use today for public education. Every year Lowell Observatory hosts 85,000 visitors who take guided daytime tours and view the wonders of the night sky through the Clark Telescope and other telescopes.
Arizona Snowbowl is located on the majestic San Francisco Peaks at 9,500 feet above sea level. It’s a year-round destination for skiing in the winter sun or escaping the summer desert heat. The ski area uses reclaimed water for snowmaking. The Navajos, Hopis and the other 11 tribes who see the Peaks as sacred say the water contaminates the entire mountain and devalues their religious practices. They consider it a violation of their religious freedom. They’ve protested and filed a suit in court but have yet to stop the snowmaking. Jones Benally, who’s in his 90s still works as a Navajo healer. He regularly collects medicinal plants from the San Francisco Peaks, just outside Flagstaff. “In creation, it is said the mountains were placed here by the holy people,” Benally said. “I collect medicinal plants and vegetation from the San Francisco Peaks because it’s very powerful.” http://www.azcentral.com/story/travel/2015/03/13/navajo-nation-files-human-rights-protest-snowbowl-snow-making/70214892/
There were many more things to see and do in the area, but I had the Grand Canyon to visit. Next time I’ll tell you more about the Native Americans of the area and about my tour with our guide, Lynn.
Continue the adventure!